Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Tipsy Historian 2008 Year In Review

The New Year is always a special time, and this time around, more than ever. A recurring personality in these posts is my wife, The Jess, and 2008 was a most challenging year for her, for me, and for us as a couple. If you look in the archives there is a writing vacuum from late January into April, and the astute observer will note in the sidebar "Why The Jess Is Cool" the one notation that's in all capital letters.
We pushed through a tough stretch together and I've never been more proud of anyone or anything in my life than I am of her. We've both worked hard to keep some balance and brightness in our lives as some dark energy pushed against us, and we've been pretty successful. I'm grateful and happy that this space was a large part of my cognitive recreation and creativity, which I'm sure is evinced by the nearly 200 posts I wrote in just over 8 months.
This blog has served as an effective relaxation and mental escape technique over the past year, and I'm sure it will remain so, but hopefully without a sense of urgency or anxiety driving the work. And what a lot of work we've done! When I started blogging, I wondered what themes would develop within the subjects that draw my interest, and over the course of 2008, there were some most engaging threads developed.
The American Civil War rose far to the front here, and I'm incredibly happy and proud of our ongoing study of The Lost Cause mythology and our collective memory of the ACW. There are some fantastic blogs out there that I discovered over the course of the year that share this focus (Cenantua's Blog being right at the top of the heap), which has made the journey that much richer.
There is no shortage of controversy and emotion in this subject matter, and we've tackled a quite a few provocative issues. When you begin challenging long-established perceptions and beloved folklore, you're gonna stir up some emotions. I believe that this is important work and I'm glad that a visceral chord is struck here from time to time.
Though my reading list is chock-a-block with Civil War material, and the majority of posts here do cover this topic, no small amount of attention has been paid to the importance of a tasty beverage. Between roasting my own coffee and inventing drinks filled with black apricot, basil, cantaloupe, and cachaca, The Jess and I have not gone thirsty this year.
We also haven't been short of drama on the tennis court, whether I'm out grinding with Simon the Great or watching and writing about the four Grand Slams. Nothing comes anywhere close to the fun that I had writing about the surging rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, and no sporting event I've ever seen can even approach the sheer brilliance and stunning drama of their clash in the Wimbledon final this year.
So what's been my favorite post of the year? There are a few that I'm quite pleased with, several that have attracted some attention and comment, and a few that will quench a powerful thirst. None of them has the appeal that writing about my cousin Guy's journey to a world championship held for me. I was a sportswriter before I went to grad school, and it's a pursuit that I love and missed, up until this event happened. It was also an incredibly dramatic moment amidst a year that was well-drenched in sporting achievements.
The thrill of this occasion and the sheer joy we all felt seeing my cousin pull over this amazing feat will always be special to me for these reasons and one more. That moment helped break through a pall in my life and was the jump-off point for a tremendous source of recreation and fun for me. That April 21st post was my first in several months and stands up as a powerful symbol for me.
I look forward to moving into 2009 and anticipate another rich year of subject matter to write about. Before we make that transition, I would like to give a word of thanks to those who have spent a few moments reading my prose. This is a public place and I'm grateful to anyone who should happen by and spend some time here. I hope to see you again many times in a healthy and happy 2009!

Monday, December 29, 2008

An Unbelievable Turnaround!

For those of you who have seen my profile, you'll note that alongside studying the Civil War (and I'll write about the dearth of recent ACW writings here tomorrow), inventing cocktails, and roasting coffee, I am an ardent Miami Dolphins fan. It's a tough road, being a Fins fan in California; there just aren't that many of us, and the last few years have been pretty gruesome.
Until this season. Until Sparano, the Wildcat, the Brown-Williams freight train, and (gasp) Pennington under center. Until the Miami Dolphins executed the greatest turnaround in NFL history to snatch the division title and send the hated Jets spinning into a dark offseason.
I intentionally didn't blog about the Dolphins after a post about Jason Taylor in the preseason. I wanted to see what happened and just try to be above it all. Now, after going 11-5, winning the division, and seizing a playoff berth on the last day of the season, I can let out my breath and say simply...
I don't care what happens on Sunday against Baltimore, this is the most memorable Dolphins season for me since 1984, when I was eight years old and was a brand new football fan watching Dan The Man slinging passes all over the field and right into the Super Bowl (the result of which we won't cover here, suffice it to say it's the reason that I dislike the 49ers more than any other professional sports franchise).
This is a team playing sports the way we're taught when we're kids: selfless, focused, energetic, committed. When you can do any activity where those tenets are paramount, great things can happen. When your team applies them week in and week out, you get to watch them go from 1-15 to the playoffs.
Well done Miami! This season will join the pantheon of great Dolphins teams, and regardless of this postseason, there is great hope for the future!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Touching Base And Providing Refreshments

Hello friends, hope everyone is having a happy and fulfilling holiday season thus far! It's been an energetic one here with births, family, trips, birthdays, lots of work and Hanukah preparations (remember to buy your books from local/independent bookstores)! So it follows that my blogging frequency has dipped a bit from my usual 5-7 posts per week.
I've finished Piston's book on Gen Longstreet, entitled "Lee's Tarnished Lieutenant", and am working through the themes of my review. As a little teaser trailer, this is one of the best studies of the Lost Cause and it's effects that I've yet read. We have some powerful and challenging issues to explore together.
This book has reinvigorated my desire to explore the Lost Cause, so my study of the Western Theater will wait until I finish Steven Budiansky's "The Bloody Shirt". I'm not a multiple-book-reader-at-the-same-time like some, so I have to stay focused. We've covered some important ground on this subject matter this year, so I'd like to do a year-end wrap of this blog's content.
Just so you don't go away thirsty, here's a little concoction I put together the other night. It received high praise from The Jess, so you know you're in business. It's a playful little interpretation of the gin and tonic, helps make sure that you get all of your medicine in one dose, quinine, vitamin C, everything. I'm assuming that as historians, we're all aware of how gin and tonic came together in the first place. Something to do with malaria...

Your Daily Dose
1.5 oz Tanqueray Ten
3 oz Schweppes tonic water
0.5 oz fresh squeezed orange juice
one strip mandarin orange peel
thick slice of kiwi fruit

Add gin and tonic to a Collins glass filled with ice, pour orange juice in next. Give gentle stir with stirring rod, then twist mandarin peel over top to release oils. Don't add peel itself to drink. Float kiwi slice on top of ice and enjoy. At the end of the drink, be sure to fish out the kiwi , it'll taste incredible!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

My Mom Wrote a Book!

I'm very proud to write this post, because my Mom has written and published a book! It's called "Hair Pieces" and it's a compilation of the creative writing done by my Mom and the members of her writing class called Sonoma County Writing Practice. It's on the shelves at Copperfield's Books in Santa Rosa, so you can get your hands on this gem right now!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Who Killed General John Reynolds?

When The Jess and I made our foray to Gettysburg several years ago, she was immediately drawn to the story of Gen. John Reynolds and his death on the first day of the battle. We spent the bulk of our morning wandering through Reynolds Woods, talking with our guide and taking pictures. My wife became something of a Reynolds expert along the way, which is another reason why she is cool (consider this an addition to the list in the right column).
The cause of his death remains one of the battle's many mysteries, despite movies like "Gettysburg" showing a sniper picking Reynolds off at a distance. Fred Ray at TOCWOC provides us with an article that delves into this mystery in some detail, you can access it here.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Book Review: "The Darkest Days of the War"

I launched into this book by Peter Cozzens as a continuation of my exploration of the fighting in the Western Theater. The campaigns conducted west of the Appalachians were incredibly complex, and the appellation "Western Theater" is wholly inadequate. I have a theory about why this oversimplification exists, but that'll be covered in another post.
Mr. Cozzens opens up the battles of Iuka and Corinth, fought in September/October, 1862, to the rigors of current historical method, and a rich mine they are. Long forgotten, these battles were a tipping point in the fighting in Mississippi in 1862, and aside from launching and ruining more than a few careers, opened the path towards Vicksburg for the Union Army.
The battles themselves were brutal, clumsy affairs marked by terrifyingly inept decisions made by personalities like Van Dorn, Price, Bragg, Rosecrans, Ord, and Grant. The conditions were ghastly-hot, with water and rations at a premium on both sides. The casualties relative to numbers of men engaged were unreal, and Cozzens brings us right into the thick of the fighting with a tremendous array of primary citations from fighting men on both sides.
Cozzens does a most solid job meeting the various requirements of a good campaign history, but really sets himself apart by using contextual analysis exceptionally well. A primary theme of this book is the pivotal nature of these comparatively small-scale battles and the tremendous consequences of their outcomes; Cozzens illustrates this theme well by wrapping this story into the larger issues of the concomitant Confederate invasions of Kentucky and Maryland. This way, we can easily fit the battles of Corinth and Iuka into the larger strategic picture.
There are also no punches pulled when it came to describing the ineptitude of commmanders at the top of both armies. Cozzens seems to take particular interest in showing the bizarre and foolhardy behavior of Confederate Gen. Earl Van Dorn, as well as presenting the genesis of the schism between Union Gen. William Rosecrans and Gen. Ulysses Grant.
I would have liked to have seen some more discussion about how the Union and Confederacy responded to these battles at the political and social level. Were they lost in the shuffle of Lee's defeat at Antietam and Bragg's retreat from Kentucky? Did the population of Mississippi reply with anger, resignation, frustration? This perspective of the aftermath of these campaigns is only minimally explored.
The battles of Iuka and Corinth had been mostly forgotten until "The Darkest Days of the War". This text provides us with a rigorous accounting of these struggles and helps remind the student of the Civil War of the tremendous tactical and strategic import of these clashes. If you wish to engage this subject matter, look no further than this book

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

20th Annual Antietam Battlefield Memorial Illumination

The 20th annual Antietam Battlefield Memorial Illumination ceremony took place this past weekend, with 23,110 candles lit at the battlefield to commemorate those killed, wounded, and missing in this gruesome fight 146 years ago.
What a striking and poignant way to remember the men that fought at Antietam. The photos you can view here capture the scope and scale of the fight, but also recognize the energy and fire of the individual.
Be sure to check Antietam Park Ranger Mannie Gentile's blog for more images of this year's celebration. You can also click here and here for more images and video clips.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Civil War News Wire

Civil War Interactive, one of the premiere clearinghouse sites for all things related to the Civil War, has just added a great new functionality, a Civil War newswire. It's done in blog form, so you can add it to your reader list. Click here to check it out.

The National Park Service, Slavery, And The Sesquicentennial

I mentioned the National Park Service in my post a few days ago about preparations by various organizations for the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. David Woodbury at "Of Battlefields and Bibliophiles" put up an article that illustrates how the NPS has been working on this issue since 1998, and how it started with a doozy; presenting slavery as a primary cause of the war at Civil War battlefield exhibits.
Mr. Woodbury has a very interesting statement in his post that has triggered some thoughts. He writes:
"I don’t get the controversy. It’s just history. The men who fought and died so bravely don’t need us to protect them from the politics of their day – they were unapologetic about it. And if not them, whom do we think we’re protecting? Confederate re-enactors?"
Let's unpack this paragraph together. I like the idea of history as something we can have some tranquility over, to come to the 150th anniversary of the Civil War in a place where all can learn, understand, and interpret an untrammeled accounting of this monumental event, good and bad. That's going to be quite a challenge, because a cornerstone of such a discourse is an agreement on the first principles of the history itself. That is something we don't have.
The next point he makes helps us remember why that schism exists. People were unapologetic about the politics of the era, yes, but the caveat is that as soon as that era ended, the apologias began, a phenomenon we have explored in our discussions of the origins of the Lost Cause mythology. When men like Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens surveyed the wreckage of the Confederacy they had helped build and lead, they systematically began to change their story to promote an alternative history, one where states rights supplanted slavery as a primary cause of secession and war, and one that took hold of the national consciousness and historiography for over 100 years.
The power that the Lost Cause mythology has on our memory of the Civil War, slavery, reconstruction, and race relations stretching up to the present is what, to help answer Mr. Woodbury's final question, is being protected. This is over a century of history-making and telling, of teaching and learning, that we're talking about here. The mythology of the Lost Cause, with its rationales, excuses, scapegoats, and heroes, is a much more palatable history for all of us to swallow when considering the debasement and savagery of the antebellum period, the war, and Reconstruction.
We have a responsibility; however, to study history honestly and objectively, regardless of whether the facts may be embarrasing, painful, even disgraceful to some. In order to do that with the Civil War, there are subjects that need to be revisited, difficult though it may be. With a fresh look at primary data, we can scrape away the obfuscation of the Lost Cause, and that's what the Civil War community has been seeing through successful works by McPherson, Gallagher, Foner, et al.
The community that sees and reads these works is small, but the sesquicentennial and the anticipated surge in public interest is going to explode the size of it. It will be an opportunity to undertake this reappraisal, not just in the halls of academia, but for the general public, for the neophyte, for the student who learned about the war decades ago and has their interest rekindled by this anniversary.
As they seek out information and education, it's good to know that things that are easily available and inexpensive, like battlefield tours and landmarks run by the NPS, will provide at least some measure of honesty and allow for more clear and integral understanding.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Coffee As Beverage, Gift, And Art

Sometimes I feel like coffee is the forgotten partner in this blog, given that I don't write about it as often as spirits and the Civil War. This paucity of narrative doesn't mean I don't love, drink, and roast it, and now I've got a few anecdotes to share.
I've had a few mishaps recently; the first was when working with a decaf bean that I badly over-roasted. First time that happened, and hopefully won't happen again. Blah, tasted like something from Starbucks: flabby, burnt, just nasty.
The next blunder was an experimentation with Qishr tea. This is a Yemeni invention, basically takes the coffee cherry husks, dries them, then you brew them in a French Press like a tea. How best to describe this brew?
When The Jess and I first tasted it she stated, quite deadpan, that it tasted "vegetably". I replied with "Bleegh" and, as my wife reminds me now, I let the beverage fall from my mouth into the sink.
This stuff sucked. Just because it grows in nature doesn't mean you have to drink it! I'm still irritated.
I cheered up when I roasted and tasted two of the beans that came in the same package as the Qishr debacle. I'm becoming a huge fan of peaberries, and the Guatemala Antigua Los Pastores Peaberry at a Full City roast was genius! Bright and sweet, almost refreshing. Very solid. The El Salvador Cup of Excellence Finca Malacara; however, stole the show by living up to its name and just blowing me away. At a City Plus roast, this was a full-bodied, rich and caramelly brew. One of the very best I've had.
I'm rolling along with this hobby, and have found many companions along the way. A fantastic coffee journey recently surfaced in the NY Times and features some brilliant coffee art; coffee impressions in napkins accented by some very clever narrative.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Two More Fantastic Civil War Blogs

I wonder if I'm the last guy to the party when I write about blogs I discover, but just in case you haven't read them yet:
First off is "Anti-Neo-Confederate", presented by Edward Sebesta. This blog joins nicely with the exploration of the Lost Cause mythology we've been working on here in that he sheds light on contemporary places and personalities that help foment this thinking. The University of Texas Press has published "Neo-Confederacy: A Critical Introduction", to which Mr. Sebesta was a contributor. Yes, I'm buying it.
When you're done getting your blood pressure up, turn to Jim Schmidt's Civil War Medicine (and Writing) to mellow out. This blog has a great mix of themes as well as links to his various publications, including his book "Lincoln's Labels".

Happy Repeal Day!

Today being December 5th, we mark the 75th anniversary of the 21st Amendment, which marked the end of Prohibition and brought alcohol back onto our tables without risk of raid or crime, with Repeal Day. Dewar's is sponsoring celebrations all over the nation, so if you're in the mood, one of your local watering holes probably has 75 cent Dewar's specials on the menu. I'll be working, so my celebration will include no alcohol, but let me know what glass you raise to celebrate our right to enjoy the power of fermentation.
It's good when history, spirits, and the history of spirits comes together.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

San Diego Bar Review: Modus

So we're starting this new program of reviewing San Diego bars and those who make the drinks, and we're starting strong. Really strong. Modus strong. This fantastic establishment is run by mixologist Ariana Johnson and her husband and is built around bringing locally sourced, seasonal items to your plate and glass.
The Jess and I, along with Captain Sizzle and his new fiance The Amusing San Diegan, rolled into Modus with high hopes and I'm happy to say they were not only met, but exceeded. Ariana, who was recognized as one of the top 10 mixologists in America by Playboy magazine, rolled out the very best of the season, including "Winter Brew". This concoction presents whiskey, Licor 43 (a vanilla-flavored Spanish liquor), ginger ale, unfiltered apple juice, and some citrus, served tall.
The whiskey comes up front, with a hint of the vanilla, then your palate rolls through sweet ginger, and the apple juice hangs out at the finish. Even though it's ice-cold, this drink is a warming romp through the flavors of winter.
Check out this article in the San Diego Tribune which has a picture of this brilliant drink, ours came with a slice of fresh ginger as garnish, not lime, which was just perfect. If this wasn't enough, we got a complimentary round of her new invention, "Drunken Pumpkin". Fresh-roasted pumpkin, which is pureed, and that's all I'm going to say about that, though I'll add the glass is rimmed with a powdered sugar-nutmeg mixture.
There are several other drinks on the seasonal menu, which turns over every few months, but the standard menu hosts multiple other strokes of genius, including The Jess' favorite drink of all time, a cayenne-tinged tequila and passionfruit based elixir known as "Latina".
The bar area is perfect for a group of people to relax together (remember my birthday party?) and the full restaurant menu is available. They've got the music at just the right volume and the lighting at just the right brightness.
We're starting this new tradition of reviewing San Diego bars with a bang, because you will find the most creative, flavorful, enticing, and delicious drinks this city has to offer when you go to Modus

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Preparations For The Civil War Sesquicentennial

OK, so it's been a few days since I last posted here, let's see if I remember how to do this...
I'm still engrossed in Cozzens' "Darkest Days of the War" as part of my study of the Western Theatre, and the going is a bit slower than usual. Not to worry, because though I'm not ankle-deep in Lost Cause writings (good stuff coming up on that theme in the future), there is a new thread for us to pick up and see where it leads.
The Civil War sesquicentennial is just a few year years away, so today I decided to see where the preparations for this milestone stand. At both the Federal and state level, there seems to be some signs of life. There's a House Resolution to establish a commission to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War. There's also the National Park Service's "Sesquicentennial Initiative", which looks to be staggering out of the gate.
It's not just some Federal bodies, either. A few states have launched their own committees and commissions, check here, here, and here for see for yourself. There are two striking items to note here: only three states seem to have enough of an act together to have an internet presence, and secondly, all are former Confederate states.
Do Northern states not care as much? Are all of the other states just biding their time? We'll have to see. It'll also be interesting to see where all of these resolutions, initiatives, and steering committees end up, not the least because of the crushing economic pressures all must be feeling, but also when faced with the myriad challenges of presenting and remembering the war in a sober, honest, and comprehensive fashion.

Civil War Battlefield Preservation Versus Wal-Mart

Despite the size of the Wal-Mart juggernaut, the fight to preserve the Wilderness battlefield continues. Click here for the pertinent article and an odd movie pairing. It's pretty wonderful that there are people that remain so dedicated to this effort. I can imagine how daunting it must be taking on an unscrupulous behemoth like Wal-Mart, and yet this voice continues to be heard. I was unable to find specifics on how these efforts are going, so if anyone has more data, please share.